Shinnecock seek grave protection protocol

A Push To Preserve The Past

Construction has been halted at the Hawthorne Road site due to an amenable property owner — the property is protected for the time being — but that’s not to say remains won’t be unearthed at another site without protection. This is causing concern among the Shinnecock tribe.

In the event that human remains are discovered during the course of archaeological investigations of the project site or during project construction, the state Historic Preservation Office recommends developers follow its Human Remains Discovery Protocol, according to Kelly Dennis, a tribal attorney.

“At all times, discovered human remains must be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Human remains and associated materials must not be collected or removed until the developer has consulted with the [state] and other appropriate parties and the parties have developed a plan of action to avoid or remove the remains or materials,” Dennis said.

There is no way of knowing who is following the protocol at the local level, some tribal members say.

Rebecca Genia, a graves protection warrior and member of the tribe’s Inter-tribal Historic Preservation Task Force, said the tribe has sought a graves protocol for the better part of 15 years and prepared legislation for the Town of Southampton that will ensure the protection of any grave — Native-American or colonial. To them, it makes no difference whose grave is being preserved. “It’s our sacred hills,” she said.

Tribal Trustee Lance Gumbs said the tribe has requested the town work with them on a protocol for builders to turn over remains without any questions asked and also for repatriating remains to Shinnecock land, however, they have been “repeatedly ignored.” Not having a procedure in place to repatriate remains has become frustrating for the tribe, as development continues throughout the south shore and more remains are found, Gumbs said.

“These things are continuing to happen,” he said.

The last time Native American remains were found was on Shelter Island in 2013 and they have since been repatriated, but in some cases, builders might just find remains and continue to build without any ramifications, said Gumbs, adding, “You don’t do things [like that] against the ancestor.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town is working with the tribe on a protocol for the discovery of Native American remains. “I think that is an ongoing conversation,” he added.